U.S. payroll gains make 2014 job growth best in 15 years

United States payrolls increased more than 250,000 in December, a gain that helped make 2014 the best year for job growth in the United States since 1999.

The national unemployment rate slipped another two-tenths of a point to 5.6 percent, the lowest level since 2008.

According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, nonfarm employment increased 252,000 in December with gains spread across a number of industry sectors.

Initial estimates for job gains in November and October also were revised upward 50,000 to total of 614,000.

With the latest numbers, U.S. payrolls increased an average of 246,000 a month during 2014. That’s 52,000 more than the average monthly gain for 2013.

Still, 2.8 million people were counted in December among the long-term unemployed who’ve been out of work 27 weeks or longer. Another 6.8 million people were counted among those working part-time because their hours have been cut back or they’re unable to find full-time positions.

The labor participation rate edged down two-tenths of a point to 62.7 percent in December, one of the lowest levels since 1978.

Professional and business services added an estimated 52,000 to payrolls in December. Job gains in the sector averaged 61,000 a month in 2014.

Construction payrolls rose 48,000, while employment increased 44,000 in food services and at drinking places and 34,000 in health care. Manufacturers added 17,000 to payrolls.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls held steady at 34.6 hours in December. The average manufacturing workweek slipped a tenth of an hour to 41 hours.

Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls fell 5 cents to $24.57, nearly offsetting a 6-cent gain in November. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have risen 1.7 percent.